23 Jan 2009 10:01:45
Driving the Honda Civic Hybrid
Our needed a trip to the garage last weekend (a somewhat insuperable combination of the battery dying and the bonnet release catch snapping) and we had an appointment we had to get to that just wasn't practical to get to by public transport. My wife remembered that she has seen a green hire car company that served Brighton and she contacted them to see whether that was a good option. It turned out to be the most economical and practical option by quite some distance, so we arranged to hire a Honda Civic Hybrid for the day.
I've seen the car around on the roads before and think they're an OK-looking machine (slightly strange wheels) and was pretty keen to get in and give it a go. My wife drove on the way up and certainly from the passenger seat, the experience was pretty pleasant - really not much different from any other modern saloon car. The interior's spacious and well laid out, with nice heated seats and a fairly funky console design.
It wasn't until I drove on the way back that I really got a proper feel for the car. The majority of our journey was along a bendy, country A-road and the Civic had quite a soft ride which didn't really suit either my driving style or the road. I'm guessing that the Hybrid is a heavier car than usual, and it certainly seemed to wallow more than my car. I was, however, very impressed by the available power (from just a 1.4l petrol engine) with the Integrated Motor Assist (TM). The electric motor gave the car a very smooth acceleration, with gear changes needed less often than I'm used to, and a very smooth delivery of power. The electric motor also seemed to smooth the gear changes so rather than the jerky transition you can get when accelerating and changing gear, it was altogether a more refined experience.
The car features an engine auto-stop function that cuts the engine out when stopped in traffic or at lights, and certainly that worked very smoothly. It's a good feeling to know you're not burning fuel just sitting still! The regenerative braking system (as visualised through a simple dashboard read-out) seemed to work very efficiently - charging the battery significantly when coasting downhill as well as under braking. Along the A-road, the fuel efficiency averaged out at 55mpg, which I thought was pretty good. I wasn't driving particularly economically (to give a fair comparison to normal use of our own car), but the combination of motor assist, small engine and regenerative braking seemed to do the trick.
Once we got onto the motorway/dual carriageway for the final leg of our journey, the fuel economy dropped significantly. I *may* have been going a bit faster than 70mph at some points, but the motor assist seemed to be permanently on and the battery was nearly drained after just 10 minutes on the motorway with fuel efficiency dropping to around 40mpg - which is the same as I can get from my 12 year-old diesel on the motorway all day long. The ride was more suited to the motorway, however, and the power delivery well suited to overtaking and getting up to speed quickly without too many gear changes.
So, my overall impression of the Honda Civic Hybrid was good. I haven't yet tried a Prius or Lexus hybrid for comparison, but certainly driving the Civic wasn't a great departure from normal-engined cars in terms of performance, comfort or practicality. The fuel efficiency was good and I'd be interested to see how low it could be kept through a more efficient driving style. For me, the car is somewhat confused. The efficiency improvements seem to be most noticeable in urban and A/B road driving conditions where the motor assist and regenerative braking come into play almost continuously, but the ride is more suited to a motorway journey. Perhaps if I'd kept at a constant <70mph, I'd have seen better fuel efficiency figures.
All the same, it took us 80 miles in comfort and speed for less than £6.50 in petrol. Now that can't be bad! Certainly it's still streets ahead of most public transport pricing.
Cost: has the model we drove for £15,583 new (Disclaimer - just the first search engine result I found - no recommendation inferred). On , I found examples with 30-40K miles on the clock for nearer to £10,000.
I'd like to say a quick thank you to , without whom we would have probably missed our appointment. They provided superb service and excellent value, and are generally a nice bunch of guys. I highly recommend them to anyone who needs a rental vehicle around the East Sussex / Gatwick area!